Clearing and planting new land
I recently bought about half an acre of land. I plan to build on it eventually, but it will be a few years. In the meantime, I'm thinking of going about things the Crucian way... slowly clearing it and planting fruit trees and flowering plants. It's covered in tan-tan, some kind of horrible thorny bush/tree, and scrubby grass right now. Aside from the driveway and house pad, it's pretty steep. Should I be worried about erosion if I start clearing it? And what about potentially damaging whatever I end up planting when I do finally start building? Obviously I won't plant anything near where the house will be, but I know that the construction process tends to make a mess of any property.
And while I'm thinking about it... it would be nice to be able to exchange plant cuttings, seeds, and ripe fruit with a group of people here on STX. Sure, that's what friends are for, but not all of my friends do any gardening! I'm just getting started myself (with potted plants), but I'm hoping to have things to share in several months. There's no reason each of us should have to buy everything!
I believe you need a clearing permit before you do anything. To apply for the permit you will need an erosion study submitted with it. Here is info to one, they may be others you need.
You do need a permit for mechanical clearing, but you don't need a permit if you are just mowing or cutting by hand, and that is precisely what I recommend. It's great that you are going about it this way--it's much better for your property, since you'll be able to keep your topsoil, and better for the environment, since your topsoil doesn't end up smothering the reef after a heavy rain.
Consider planting your screening first. Do you or will you have neighbors? Establish a border of trees now before you build. Your foundation plants can be started in pots when you begin your house. Consider smaller, faster growing plants for immediately around your house so that construction can be unimpeded.
Take some time to learn the natives that may be or are already on your property. It is nice to preserve them whenever possible. Some, like Samidia have a beautiful flower and fragrance, but are difficult to start or transplant.
Consider planting from seed. Bursera simaruba (Gumbo-limbo) is very easy to start and grows quickly. So too with seagrape. Find a mahogany tree you like and wait for it to seed. Small-leaf mahoganys are better (they're Swietenia mahagoni -- the famous west-indian mahogany). Soak the seeds in water for a month or so and they'll germinate nicely in pots.
Good luck! Have fun!
Before you plant think about all the trucks and backhoes you may have to use during your building process. I have still only planted in my front yard in from of my gate because of the work I know I have to do in the back. Contractors will not purposely hurt your plants but accidents happen and the cost of plants can really add up quickly. Also you will need to take care of them if they are immature plants, at least in the beginning, so you will need to visit to plot regularly.
When you plant near your planned house allow for other construction issues.Power,sewer lines underground. One big issue is concrete washout from construction. The lime in concrete is very toxic to plants. Make one place for concrete tool cleanup. Don't let the workers use the whole yard as a dump site for concrete waste.Don't get too carried away with small plants, go for the slow growing trees.The St. George botanical garden is a good place to start to see what you like.Be careful planting mangos as many people are allergic to the trees.
SunnyCaribe, I tried to Google Samidia, but I had no luck. Would you please describe it a bit more? Or maybe it has another name under which I can find it?
Yes, that's exactly what I meant about construction making a mess of the property. I suppose large, mature trees could stand up to it, but I'd have to be careful about other things. I'm happy to start things in pots and transplant them when the property is ready. (It's 20 minutes away, which might as well be 4 hours if you live here, so I'm happy to water plants in my living room instead of driving over there daily!) Growing from seeds is therefore a particularly good idea, since I have time on my side.
Thanks to all for your suggestions.
One more thing... I've heard that near the Agfair grounds, there's a place that sells seedlings for 10 cents. I'm not sure exactly where people are talking about. Could it be the place with the sign that says "Greenhouse Project" across Centerline from UVI?
I'm on the same type of development path with my (steep) lot and house (although much slower pace since I don't live on island). My understanding is as SunnyCaribe states: you don't need a permit for clearing by machete; but I think you need a permit for anything powered (mowing grass is not considered clearing). I also believe there is a restriction on cutting down trees above a certain trunk diameter (is that right, folks?). I had a heck of a time making my way through my lot with a machete. It took me 2 hours to go about 150 ft. But it was great fun (although potentially dangerous to be swinging a large, heavy, sharp blade at stuff that you might miss). I've decided that to minimize the potential erosion issues I'm going to clear a switchback type trail through my lot. Then I'll create some small clearings along the path, where the slope of the land and lighting are favorable. Over time, if erosion stays in check, then I might expand some of the clearings, if desired.
I tried to hire Ras Lumumba Corriette from Ay Ay Tours to walk my lot and identify the various plants and trees. Bottom line: he was very pleasant and very willing to walk me around his lot, but did not seem interested in consulting work. But, he is very knowledgeable and might be interested in providing cuttings and insights. And, who knows, it's been a few years since I approached him... He might be willing to tour your lot and help you identify plants. I never got him on his telephone, but his number is/was 340.772.4079. He might still do his walking tours of the island. Once you know your plants visually this tour might be useful to find out the the plant's names and gain some knowledge about them.
It sounds like you're way ahead of me, EngRMP -- I think I saw in another post that you're already working on the design of the house! But yes, I would imagine that clearing by machete would take quite a while.
I've heard of Ras Lumumba, but I forgot all about him. Thanks for bringing him up!
You do not need a permit to clear your lot unless you are disturbing the soil. There is no problem using a mower or weed whacker or other powered tools. There is a guy on STX (Cheech 340.772.0421) that has a mulching unit that attaches to the front of his bobcat. He can clear a lot including pesky tan-tan and the result is mulched up waste on top of the soil without needing a permit. A very eco-friendly way of clearing and no worries with DPNR. Highly recommended, although he is very busy so it may take some time to get scheduled.
For those who are interested, "Samidia" is Samyda dodocandra, also known as Guayabilla.